If we take all within the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi as the work of Zhuangzi, there is considerable internal evidence that he was aware of the beliefs and practices of, if not the Nei Yeh (“Inner Training”) chapter of the anthology called the Kuanzi, than at least the school of thought of which it is representative. Some of “Confucius’s” instructions to his disciple Yan in Chapter Four could be taken as clear allusions to this likely contemporaneous work. (Some have apparently questioned the authenticity of this passage, though I have only read Liu Xiaogan’s (Classifying the Zhuangzi Chapters) dismissal of these doubts.) Zhuangzi makes use of these as he does other materials at hand. But, as a scholar (whose identity I do not have permission to share) has recently pointed out, he also speaks of Confucian virtues without being a Confucian, uselessness without being a Mohist, and “white horses” without being a Logician. If Zhuangzi “released [his] mind to play in the harmony of all de”, then he could make use of any of them without our having to believe he fixedly attached to any particular one.

Zhuangzi may very well have practiced some form of breathing meditation; only I would contend that this would not have included the metaphysical beliefs of his contemporaries who also did so. The difference is between religious-mindedness and utterly unfixed openness. This distinction is important because, at my reading, Zhuangzi’s entire vision turns on making use of our (useless) utter not-knowing. The practice of non-dependence, which I take to be an overarching attribute of his proposed dao, includes not relying on any beliefs about the nature of reality. We do not become “empty” in order to be filled by a “something”, but because empty is what we most fundamentally are and what we must remain if we wish to live authentically.

Admittedly, Zhuangzi is largely what we make him to be. This is how I make him to be because this is what I need him to be if he is to be of use to me, someone who cannot do the religious thing. However, in having taken him as I have, I can now make use of him as I believe he made use of others. In this sense, the “truth” of this representation of Zhuangzi’s philosophy does not matter. This is what I mean by “a new philosophical Daoism”; one that makes use of the materials at hand so as to evolve a uniquely personal strategy for the enjoyment of life.

Thanks for the leg up, “Zhuangzi”—I can take it from here.

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